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Macbeth review at Shakespeare’s Globe, London – ‘lacking in chemistry’

Ray Fearon and Tara Fitzgerald in Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo: Tristram Kenton Ray Fearon and Tara Fitzgerald in Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Macbeth is a play full of portent and ill omen. And the third production in Emma Rice’s inaugural season at Shakespeare’s Globe opens under a fittingly turbulent sky. But though Iqbal Khan’s production contains a number of intriguing ideas, it’s oddly fitful and insipid and insists on a sexual heat between the central couple that never really convinces.

Ciaran Bagnall’s design has been styled to resemble a teenage goth’s bedroom. There’s a lot of red velvet, black lace and wrought iron on display. It’s all a bit Kensington Market circa 1995. All that’s missing is a shelf full of Anne Rice novels and Smashing Pumpkins CDs.

Some of the most visually striking sequences come early on. The witches are presented as a kind of black mass, a collection of limbs, a hag tapestry, a stitchery of witches. It’s a suitably uncanny image, enhanced by Jocelyn Pook’s eerie music. Secret Theatre’s Nadia Albina makes a brilliantly bawdy Porter, capturing the mood in the Yard with a few well-thrown quips and barbs, and Banquo’s ghost, conjured with black sheet and smoke machine, is highly effective in a lo-fi way.

Draped and caped in red, Ray Fearon’s Macbeth has fair amount of charisma and a rich, damson quality to his delivery but it’s the kind of performance that needs someone to reflect off, and there’s a dearth of chemistry between him and Tara Fitzgerald’s Lady M. There’s something a little cartoonish to their coupling, their insistence on the physical, more than a dash of Spike and Drusilla. Their ruthlessness feels simultaneously a bit under- and over-cooked and Fitzgerald in particular seems lost on the Globe stage, her lines thinning in the air. The production only really starts to grip in the second half. This is in part down to the efforts of Jacob Fortune-Lloyd. His MacDuff is on a different level. He brings an emotional weight to his scenes that is missing elsewhere in the production.

The production isn’t short on ideas but they really don’t cohere. Khan places a child on the stage, a young boy, the Macbeths’ son perhaps, or the shadow of him, the memory of him, a silent watchful (if fidgety) presence throughout. Again, it’s an interesting device, these acts watched through young eyes, blood and legacy and all that, but it feels underexplored. Tension and menace are in short supply and the whole thing feels a bit sub-Game of Thrones – the Lannisters would have little time for these two – making this the least exciting production in what has been a pretty exhilarating Globe season so far.

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Iqbal Khan’s velvet-bedecked production is lacking in vital chemistry